Like most marathons originating at the beginning of the running boom of the 1970′s, the Houston Marathon started small. There were less than a hundred finishers for that first five-loop course event held at Memorial Park in December 1972.
The Houston Marathon used the original Memorial Park course in 1972, 1973 and 1975. There was no Houston Marathon in 1974 because the race scheduled for December 1974 was moved to January 1975. In 1976, George Kleeman measured a three-loop course, which included portions of the original course while expanding into an adjoining neighborhood. George took over as race director in 1977 and continued through 1980. During his tenure, he brought on board a major sponsor, Tenneco, and measured a new two-loop course with a start and finish in the downtown area to utilize the comforts of the convention center.
In 1984, a delegation from Houston was invited to visit the New York City Marathon. Representatives of the Houston Marathon, Houston Police Department and the mayor’s office rode in the lead vehicle to observe how a big city-wide marathon worked. Realizing the advantages of a race involving all of Houston’s varied neighborhoods, the City of Houston offered full backing for a city-wide marathon.
The first city-wide marathon was run in 1986, leading runners through Houston’s downtown district, Near Northside, Midtown, Hermann Park, the Texas Medical Center, West University, the Galleria and Memorial areas. Until 2014, the course had been very similar to the original 1986 course, with some minor changes incorporating Montrose and the Heights, as well as a start-line move in 1989 to take advantage of the newly built George R. Brown Convention Center. For the 2014 Houston Marathon, the first eight miles of the course were changed, merging the marathon and half marathon start lines and leading the runners out of downtown via the Washington Corridor and through the River Oaks and Upper Kirby neighborhoods.
The Houston Marathon has grown steadily over the years, with almost 7,000 finishers in 2014. A 5K run was added in 1995, which proved popular with spouses and relatives of the marathoners waiting for the marathon to finish. In addition, a half marathon debuted in 2002 and was an instant hit with who did not want to run a marathon. Participation in the Houston Half Marathon has also grown over the years, starting with 2,600 finishers in 2002 and reaching 10,500 finishers in 2014.